Tag Archives: Donald Trump

Is THIS The New World Order?

If the scenario of minority governance painted by Ezra Klein–about which I blogged a few days ago–persists, if the current iteration of the Republican Party continues to control all three branches of America’s government despite being the choice of a dwindling minority of America’s voters, what can we expect?

Rather obviously, we can anticipate tax and spending policies benefitting the rich and well-connected at the expense of the rest of us. And speaking of the rich and well-connected, there have recently been several reports involving rich and connected Erik Prince, and his “vision” of privatized warfare.

Prince is Betsy DeVos’ brother, and the former head of Blackwater. Actually, former is a misnomer: Blackwater still exists, but its name was changed after it became a dirty word.

According to the Washington Post, 

More than a year after his plan to privatize the Afghan war was first shot down by the Trump administration, Erik Prince returned late last month to Kabul to push the proposal on the beleaguered government in Afghanistan, where many believe he has the ear — and the potential backing — of the U.S. president.

That speculation continues, despite a statement from the President of Afghanistan to the effect that the country would “under no circumstances” allow the counterterrorism fight to become a “private, for-profit business.” American military figures are equally negative

At the Pentagon, the head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, told reporters that “I absolutely do not agree” with Prince’s contention that he could win the war more quickly and for less money with a few thousand hired guns.

In addition to such a plan violating signed agreements with the Afghan government, Votel said, “the most significant downside is that we turn our national interest over to contractors.” Quoting earlier comments by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Votel said, “I don’t think this is a very good strategy.”

The fact that people who understand warfare are negative only goes so far with a President who thinks his gut knows more than “the generals” (or climate scientists, or economists, or pretty much anyone). The article notes the existence of

a widespread belief in Kabul and Washington that Prince has a willing audience in President Trump, who is known to be frustrated with the cost and slow progress of the strategy he adopted a year ago — a belief buttressed by the White House’s refusal to reject the idea out of hand.

The Afghans aren’t convinced;  Qadir Shah, spokesman for the country’s National Security Council, has been quoted as saying that Prince possesses a “colonialist type of arrogance” and is “a war profiteer who stands to make $10 billion a year from such a plan,” assessments that are hard to dispute.

Since severing his ties to Blackwater — the company he founded that was accused of heavy-handed practices, including the killing of civilians, while under U.S. contract in Iraq — Prince has cycled through several iterations of the same business and now runs a Hong Kong-based company called Frontier Services.

It isn’t simply that Prince is an out-and-out profiteer, an accused murderer, and as despicable as (although clearly brighter than) his sister. Privatizing war is a terrible idea, and we’ve already gone too far down that path. In 2005, I wrote a paper titled “Outsourcing Patriotism” about dubious practices during the Iraq War.

During that war, private corporations were the second biggest contributor to coalition forces after the Pentagon, and nearly a third of the budget earmarked that year for the war, or $30 billion dollars, went to private companies. Wherever possible, soldiers were replaced with highly paid civilians not subject to standard military discipline. As I noted at the time, whether such contractors are mercenaries (whose use is banned by the Geneva conventions) is one concern, but the practice raised much graver issues, among them whether the ability to “hire” soldiers allows policymakers to wage war by proxy and without the kind of congressional and media oversight to which conventional deployments are subject.

In such a world, Congressman X doesn’t have to come home and justify sending a constituent’s son or daughter to war. In such a world, lobbyists for companies being hired to fight  would agitate for military rather than diplomatic “solutions” to international issues. And in such a world, those companies would inevitably be available to the highest bidder, not just to the U.S.–and to the extent they employed former members of our armed forces, our tactics and capacities would become an open book our enemies could read.

But people like Erik Prince would make a lot of money. And idiots like Donald Trump wouldn’t understand why hiring soldiers wasn’t a great idea.

Proving Woodward’s Point

As I said yesterday, anyone who has watched this deeply dysfunctional President has come to the same conclusions Woodward attributes to Trump’s staff. But thanks to the very low levels of civic literacy in this country, it may not be apparent to everyone how profoundly his proposed actions violate the most basic of our constitutional premises.

A couple of examples from the Washington Post:

President Trump has long derided the mainstream media as the “enemy of the people” and lashed out at NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem. On Tuesday, he took his attacks on free speech one step further, suggesting in an interview with a conservative news site that the act of protesting should be illegal.

Trump made the remarks in an Oval Office interview with the Daily Caller hours after his Supreme Court nominee, Brett M. Kavanaugh, was greeted by protests on the first day of his confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill.

“I don’t know why they don’t take care of a situation like that,” Trump said. “I think it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protesters. You don’t even know what side the protesters are on.”

I rather doubt that the Daily Caller’s reporter asked the appropriate question: Are you aware that the First Amendment to the Constitution specifically protects the ability of citizens to “petition their government for redress of grievances?” (The Daily Caller is a  website founded by conservative pundit Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, former adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Hence my assumption the reporter didn’t confront the President.)

It doesn’t really matter. Since Trump has given exactly zero evidence of ever having encountered the Constitution–let alone understanding it–I’m sure a reference to the First Amendment would have fallen on deaf ears.

In another Post column, David Von Drehle addressed the President’s utter contempt for the rule of law.

Here’s a question I never expected to ask:

Should law enforcement officials ignore crimes committed by their friends and associates?

I grew up thinking the answer was a simple no. The figure of Justice, with her scales in one hand and her sword in the other, wears a blindfold to symbolize her impartiality. Carved in stone over the doors of the Supreme Court are the words: Equal Justice Under Law.

As I got older and saw a few things, I came to understand that justice, as meted out by humans, is imperfect. Yet the principle of the matter — the goal for which we should aim and the standard by which we should measure — remains the same. Impartiality. Equality. Fairness.

So why am I asking?

On Labor Day, the president of the United States used Twitter to express precisely the opposite idea.

Von Drehle was referring to Trump’s angry eruption at the indictment of “two very popular Republican Congressmen.” He clearly believes that the role of the Justice Department is political, that since both he and Sessions are Republican, the department should protect Republican wrongdoing.

I don’t know what’s worse–that Trump would have such an uniformed view of what “law” means, or that he was willing to tweet his ignorance for the whole world to see. As Von Drehle concluded,

Nineteenth-century orator Robert Green Ingersoll once wrote, “Nothing discloses real character like the use of power.” In his pity for Paul Manafort, convicted tax cheat; in his hatred for truth-telling “rats” and “flippers”; and now in his assertion that the law should exempt his political allies, Donald J. Trump is disclosing his.

Sixty percent of us, plus or minus, noticed.

When Politics Becomes A Culture War

I have my favorites among the columnists who write for The New York Times and The Washington Post, and I’ll admit that Tom Friedman has never been one of them. It isn’t that I disagree with him any more frequently than I disagree with others; he simply tends to address issues with which I’m less engaged, and to do so in a hectoring manner I find annoying.

I do think, however, that he hit this one “out of the park” as the saying goes.

The column was titled “A President With No Shame and a Party With No Guts,” which gives you a pretty good hint about the subject matter.

If your puppy makes a mess on your carpet and you shout “Bad dog,” there is a good chance that that puppy’s ears will droop, his head will bow and he may even whimper. In other words, even a puppy acts ashamed when caught misbehaving. That is not true of Donald Trump. Day in and day out, he proves to us that he has no shame. We’ve never had a president with no shame — and it’s become a huge source of power for him and trouble for us.

And what makes Trump even more powerful and problematic is that this president with no shame is combined with a party with no spine and a major network with no integrity — save for a few real journalists at Fox News like the outstanding Chris Wallace.

When a president with no shame is backed by a party with no spine and a network with no integrity, you have two big problems.

Those three paragraphs go a long way toward summing up where Americans find ourselves these days. But the observation that really struck me was this one:

The G.O.P. has lost its way because it has been selling itself for years to whoever could keep it in power, and that is now Trump and his base. And Trump’s base actually hates the people who hate Trump — i.e., liberals who they think look down on members of the base — more than it cares about Trump. This is about culture, not politics, and culture doesn’t change with the news cycle. And neither do business models — and Fox News’s business model is to feed, and feed off of, that culture war by allowing many of its commentators to be Trump’s parrots and bullhorns.

This, it seems to me, is the real problem, and it may be intractable.

Ever since the stunning result of the 2016 Presidential election, I have tried–and miserably failed–to understand how any sentient being could have voted for Donald Trump, a man so obviously unfit for office (not to mention polite society) that people who knew anything at all about government and/or business considered his candidacy a joke.

This is a man who makes polite people cringe and kind people recoil. If someone like Trump tried to strike up a conversation at a bar, most of us would change seats. He’s like the ignorant, self-absorbed uncle you don’t invite for Thanksgiving, because you don’t want your children to think his “all about me” behavior is acceptable.

I understand that hatred for Hillary Clinton (nurtured by misogynists for years) may have motivated some voters to cast that vote–but how do you explain the 30% of Americans who still support him? Fox News can spin–or ignore–the news, but you would expect anyone reading his misspelled tweets or listening to his delusional “word salad” speeches to be appalled.

I think Friedman answers that question when he writes that “Trump’s base actually hates the people who hate Trump — i.e., liberals who they think look down on members of the base — more than it cares about Trump. This is about culture, not politics.”

If he is correct–if Trump’s support comes from people who hold deep animus toward those they dismiss as “elitist” and “cosmopolitan” and who are more interested in “sticking it” to people they believe fall into those groups than in good or even adequate government– they aren’t going to change. They aren’t going to wake up one morning and say “gee, maybe sticking it to those snobs isn’t worth doing irreparable damage to the country and the planet.” They are lost to reason.

If Friedman is right–if this is culture war– efforts to right the ship of state need to be focused on the 49% of eligible voters who didn’t bother to cast a ballot in 2016.  I can only hope that Trump has been their wake-up call.

Black And White

If you were to do one of those “man on the street” polls,  asking “what are the qualities that make some people superior,” it’s likely you’d get a response listing behaviors that our culture considers admirable: kindness, generosity, honesty, civility. Some people might identify intelligence, excellence in a chosen field, or possession of a particular talent.

I really doubt that anyone would say that white skin makes people superior. Yet that is clearly the belief motivating the various alt-right eruptions we are experiencing–and even more clearly, the belief that animates Donald Trump and triggers his seething resentment of accomplished African-Americans.

A self-image so dependent upon something as irrelevant and accidental as skin color signals a monumental lack of self-awareness–and invites some very unflattering comparisons.

Take Trump’s childish tweet demeaning LeBron James.

James athletic prowess is well-known, and it has made him wealthy, but it is his generosity and concern for children in his home town of Akron that has generated widespread recognition and respect. Trump’s petty put-down came as James was being applauded for establishing and funding a school for disadvantaged children.

As SB Nation notes, the school is different from other local public schools in that it will have a longer school year, and have a “focus on accelerated learning to bring kids up to speed who otherwise might be lagging.” There are activities for students to prevent too much down time which might cause them to get in trouble outside of school. And there are services to help students deal with stress related to their home situations. But here’s what’s also really amazing about the school—it also has services for parents, including job placement assistance and a food bank.

This is not the first time that James has invested in the kids of Akron. Three years ago, his LeBron James Family Foundation announced that they were investing in an initiative to pay for the college tuition for 1,000 local kids. He has also funded a program that has provided school supplies, computers and bikes to keep kids motivated to do their homework and get good grades. Apparently, bikes were an important part of James’s childhood that allowed him to thrive in spite of the dangers in his community. Thus, he’s also giving each I Promise student a bike at the start of the school year.

The contrast with Trump–whose own family foundation is being sued amid charges of self-dealing– could hardly be greater.

The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, culminated a nearly two-year investigation of Mr. Trump’s charity, which became a subject of scrutiny during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. While such foundations are supposed to be devoted to charitable activities, the petition asserts that Mr. Trump’s was often improperly used to settle legal claims against his various businesses, even spending $10,000 on a portrait of Mr. Trump that was hung at one of his golf clubs.

The foundation was also used to curry political favor, the lawsuit asserts. During the 2016 race, the foundation became a virtual arm of Mr. Trump’s campaign, email traffic showed, with his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, directing its expenditures, even though such foundations are explicitly prohibited from political activities.

During the campaign, reporters found that the Trump Foundation had made few actual charitable donations–and those it did make tended to serve other purposes (raising Trump’s public profile or ingratiating him with someone whose help or approval he needed.)

I’m not a psychiatrist and I don’t play one on TV, but research literature suggests that racism and misogyny often accompany deep feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. Trump’s obsession with obliterating Obama’s legacy, his cheap shots at women (especially black women), his mean-spirited attempts to diminish people who are far more accomplished than he is, his constant bragging and repeated reminders that he won the election are pathetic efforts to reassure himself that he’s really superior.

He really, really isn’t. And most Americans have noticed.

Picard Returns, Just In Time…

I am a huge fan of Star Trek (and good science-fiction more generally), and my favorite of all the various iterations of Gene Rodenberry’s vision was The Next Generation. So you can imagine my reaction when I read that Patrick Stewart aka Jean-Luc Picard will return in a new series that will follow Captain Picard’s post-Enterprise life.

There are numerous theories, articles and books that attempt to explain the long-term devotion of Star Trek fans. Most of them boil down to a recognition that its vision of the future speaks to our human aspiration to become better–better people in a better, more equal, fairer society–a society in which human ingenuity focuses on creating social structures that facilitate what Aristotle called “human flourishing.”

Whatever the appeal, there are reasons to applaud Jean-Luc’s return. Right now, Americans desperately need high-profile models of wise adulthood–figures who demonstrate what honorable, intelligent, mature behavior looks like, so that we don’t begin to regard as normal the childish and bizarre behaviors emanating from the Oval Office.

Think about the character of Jean-Luc Picard. He is temperate, waits to gather evidence before coming to a conclusion, and thinks before he (eloquently) speaks.  He is highly disciplined, and in control of his emotions. He gives credit where credit is due. He encourages, supports and clearly cares about his subordinates. He never stoops to name-calling–and never blames others for his own errors or mistakes.

He demonstrates strength and resolve, but prudently avoids unnecessary confrontations, and considers the use of force a last resort.

As one might expect in a series about a fictional starship, Captain Picard is intimately familiar with the science and technology of his ship, but he also appreciates and is familiar with the humanities: he’s an amateur archeologist, a history buff and a fan of Shakespeare.

Picard’s crew isn’t just multi-ethnic, it is multi-species, and he meets the inhabitants of new planets with respect and efforts at mutual understanding.

Most of all, Picard is shown as a steadfast defender of the rule of law–especially the Federation’s Prime Directive–even when adherence to the law requires very tough decisions. In short, he’s a civilized adult.  Accordingly, there is no aspect of Jean-Luc Picard’s character that is not a direct reproof to, and critique of, Donald Trump.

Think of Picard as super-ego, and Trump as id.

Trump could not be more unlike Stewart’s Picard. To call him undisciplined is an understatement. If things go well, he claims the credit; if things demonstrably don’t go well, he blames others. It’s never his fault. He picks totally unnecessary fights. And far from being educated, he is profoundly, embarrassingly ignorant–not just of his ship (of state) and the rules governing it, but also of history, geography, law, science, public policy and (evidently, judging from his tweets) the English language.

Trump’s “crew” is all white; he consistently demonstrates his contempt for black and brown Americans with racist and demeaning rhetoric. I would accuse him of purposely trying to undermine the rule of law, but I seriously doubt that he understands what that is. Evidence is irrelevant to his “agenda,” which is based entirely upon his various resentments and biases.

I have friends who binge-watch old episodes of The West Wing and long for a President Bartlett. I watch Star Trek reruns and pine for a leader like Picard. Unfortunately, Bartlett and Picard are fictional characters, while Trump is all too depressingly real.

That said, the return of Jean-Luc Picard–fictional though he may be– will give us another example of an ethical adult, another role-model to remind us that the moral and intellectual midgets currently infesting our governing institutions are anomalies who cannot be allowed to set the standard.

We need that.